Here’s a pairing that has probably never passed between your lips: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and a hot cup of Hair Bender.
That’s coffee, a signature blend from Stumptown – the Portland-based roaster with tentacles in Manhattan. (No, Hair Bender isn’t wildly caffeinated; the name comes from the company’s initial headquarters, an old hair salon.) Like a great cheese, Hairbender is balanced with notes of stone fruit, dark chocolate, and caramel.
When cheesemonger Ian Peacock sipped a cup of Hairbender on Saturday, he had a vision: “I could taste it with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar in my mind’s mouth.” And so that’s what Ian served – Cheddar and Hair Bender – to the customers at Di Bruno Bros. on 9th Street.
It’s all part of Ian’s Breakfast Club. Yes, on Saturdays he samples great coffee and great cheese from 9 a.m. until noon.
How to Pair Caffeine and Protein
Coffee and cheese? Really? Well, think about it: coffee goes with cream, right? Believe me, I was skeptical, too. I eat some form of cheese at lunch and dinner most days, but if I’m going to pick a cheese for breakfast, it’s probably going to be a tub of ricotta — mild and milky, not bold and earthy.
On Saturday, I got schooled. A great cup of coffee – one made from carefully selected beans that are gently roasted (not charred) – can be as complex as a glass of wine. In fact, there’s a coffee taster’s wheel that’s not unlike the flavor wheels I’ve seen for cheese. Once you detect the subtle notes in your cup, you can begin to experiment with dairy.
Stumptown’s Jules Manoogian, a professional coffee taster, explained the first two things she looks for in a cup: “Coffee comes from a fruit, so it should have an element of fruitiness,” she offered. “It’s also carefully washed, so it should taste really clean—not dirty or muddled.”
On Saturday, Jules prepared perfect cups of coffee to pair with Ian’s samples of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. And Jules was right: the bright, fruity notes in the coffee combined with its clean mouthfeel really stood out. And guess what?
There was something about drinking warm coffee that made tasting cheese all the more pleasurable. I have to believe that heating your tongue to receive a delectable morsel is, well, a good thing. Warmth brings out flavor notes in cheese.
A Cheese and Coffee Brunch
As we stood around Di Bruno Bros. sipping Hair Bender and snacking on Cheddar, I couldn’t help but flip a few mental cartwheels. Discovering a new cheese pairing – one that’s original and unexpected – is like making a mental leap in geometry. Remember the euphoria you felt as a kid when someone explained pi?
Okay, forget pi. Here’s your homework: 1) Invite some friends to brunch, 2) Prepare a cup of Hairbender – use a very clean French press or Chemex to achieve the best possible solution, 3) serve a hunk of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.
If you’re feeling generous, add a bar of Mast Brothers Chocolate infused with Stumptown coffee. Plan on having your mind (and taste buds) blown.
For a roster of roasters coming to Di Bruno Bros. on Saturdays, click here.
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